Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parent Teacher Conferences

Schools and teachers set aside time for parent-teacher conferences during the school year so they can talk with parents and try to work together to help the student succeed. The National Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education advise parents to prepare for these conferences to make the most out of the time they have with teachers.

Before you go, make a list of things you want to discuss with the teacher such as how your child is doing at school – in his or her studies AND in relationships with classmates. Help the teacher understand your child’s special talents, interests and hobbies, how she or he learns, and any struggles with homework or any particular subject.

Be sure to ask the teacher for suggestions on how to help your child at home. It’s important to schedule a conference if problems arise. Your child’s grades might have dropped suddenly, or he/she may be upset about something that happened in school. You can also let the teacher know if something changes in home that may affect the student’s learning, such as a new baby, parental illness, a family move or divorce.

Keep in mind that the purpose of any parent-teacher conference is to help your child in school. As a parent, you are an important part in the partnership, working together with the teacher and your child to help your child succeed.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Children and Lying

What child hasn't helped himself to the cookie jar and denied doing it? Parents usually feel upset when they notice their child lying. But before we brand a child “a liar,” we need to consider the child’s developmental stage and the motives behind the lying.

Preschool children don’t understand the concepts “lying” and “telling the truth.” They also may “exaggerate” because they have trouble separating wish from reality. A child may say, “I am the smartest kid ever.” Adults need to understand what the statement means to the child - that she is confident in her abilities and values intelligence. This doesn’t mean she’s a liar.

Around the age of four, children can start to tell the difference between lies and truth and between wrong and right. This doesn’t mean they won’t tell an untruth, though!

Children lie for the same reasons adults do; to avoid getting in trouble, to feel powerful, to take advantage of a situation, to keep a secret, or to help a friend. By ages five or six, a child can tell whether a listener believes a lie or not. Between seven and eight years of age, they understand that not only what they say, but their motives behind what is said can be judged. At ten to eleven years of age children can lie successfully.

What can parents do? Leading by example is key. Children need to depend on adults to tell the truth. A recent survey, however, found adults admitted to lying more than ten time a week.

Also, when you find your child is lying don’t be quick to anger. Take time to calm down before dealing with the lie. Find out the message of and the motive behind the lie. Explain the consequences of lying and use consequences to help your child develop his or her conscience. Have you ever told your child a lie? What was it and for what reason?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Teens using TV as a Guide for Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors

One of the things I’ve always loved about children is watching them absorb the world around them, like sponges. They sometimes have such a funny take on things. Children and teens have inquiring minds. And even if we don’t see evidence of it sometimes, they have rapidly developing brains, too. What they are exposed to during this time can have a big influence on them.

A recent study has found that television can be quite a powerful influence on teens’ sexual attitudes and behaviors. As reported in the Journal of Research on Adolescence, researchers from the University of Michigan found that high school students in their study reported a higher endorsement of sexual stereotypes when they watched more talk shows and “sexy” prime-time programs and also when they watched TV to fill their need for companionship.

For example, these students were “more likely to agree that sex is recreational, and that men are sexually driven, and that women are sexual objects”. Their findings also suggest that these students may be relying heavily on media for developing their own social norms and values. Is this a good idea?

The study also found that students who frequently viewed music videos and talk shows and who strongly identified with the main characters in television programs also reported a greater experience with the types of activities frequently featured on TV, such as dating and sexual activity.

This study gives strong argument for parents to monitor their teens in both the real world (such as knowing their peers and whereabouts) and in the surreal world of television. It’s a good idea to know the show your teen is spending time watching and how often. What does your teen like to watch on TV?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Moral Development in the Classroom

Parents have many opportunities to visit their children’s school throughout the year. Attending Open House, parent-teacher conferences, special assemblies and presentations, sporting events – these events give parents a glimpse of the environment in which their children are spending a great deal of time. But how does a parent know if morality is encouraged there?

Morality refers to social conduct that exhibits good judgment of fairness, honesty and equality. Research studies and analysis have found that teachers who consistently encourage mutual respect in classrooms help develop morality in their students. Experts suggest that teachers who praise a student’s considerations for others or encourage politeness throughout the school day also cultivate a sense of morality in the classroom.

Children may be able to learn morality by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. In terms of equality, honesty and keeping promises, one study in China found the concept of “If I were you and you were me” to be helpful for children. For example, if the teacher explains how either party would feel regarding the betrayal of a friend who broke a promise, both children learn a moral lesson from the event.

In addition to teachers, close friends also have an impact on moral learning. When children have a close friendship with a least one peer, they are better able to tell the difference between the norms of genuine and close friendships compared to the norms of friendship in the context of a group.

So the next time you visit your child’s school, check out the playground and the company your child keeps. It may be the values of your child’s friends – good or bad – that are helping to shape your child’s view of morality.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Test Anxiety

I often have parents ask me how their child can do so well on daily school work, yet get an FCAT score lower than the parent expects. One reason for this may be text anxiety.

Standardized tests are used to measure a child’s learning to see if he or she is ready to advance or if they need extra time to learn. They are also important for school accountability. Because of this, children face increased pressures to perform well on standardized tests, such as FCAT.

One reported outcome of standardized testing has been an increase in the prevalence of test anxiety among school-aged children. According to research published in the Journal of Instructional Psychology, students who experience high levels of test anxiety tend to score lower on standardized tests than student who experience low levels of test anxiety. Nothing shocking about that!

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are a number of actions parents can take to help prepare their children for tests and reduce their anxiety. First, meet with your child’s teachers on a regular basis to discuss progress and ask teachers for activities you can do with your child at home to help them prepare for tests. Some parents like to conduct “mock” tests using a timer for practice.

Try to provide a quiet and comfortable place at home where your child can study, and on test days, make sure your child is well rested and has had a good breakfast. As a test day approaches, calmly talk to your child about what is coming up and encourage him or her to do his or her best.

You can practice stress and relaxation exercises with your child, too. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or visualization can help. Visit my free on-line Stress Management workshop at

Finally, it’s important for parents to avoid placing too much emphasis on their children’s test performance by getting upset over “bad” test scores. Doing this will only place extra pressure on your child to perform and increase their anxiety instead of making it better. Make sure your children know they are loved no matter how they do and that you know they will do well because they are ready!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Neighborhoods Hurt Students More Than Income

Most people might assume that children who grow up in disadvantaged communities are at higher risks of many unfortunate outcomes, including problems with cognitive development that lead to learning problems. However, researchers at the University of Chicago wanted to determine whether children of families living in the same communities but whose family incomes were higher had better results.

The research suggests that the neighborhood itself (rather than household income) was the most important in determining outcomes for children.

The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, followed families over a six year period as they moved in and out of what were considered disadvantaged neighborhoods in Chicago. Neighborhoods were defined as disadvantaged based on their rates of welfare receipt, poverty, unemployment, female-headed household, racial composition and number of children per household.

The research revealed that regardless of whether the families were low or middle-income families, the neighborhood played a more significant role in the development of verbal skills than did economic inequality. Additionally, the researchers reported that living in severely disadvantaged neighborhoods lowered verbal test scores by the equivalent of missing one year of schooling. The strongest effects continued to appear after children had lived in these communities several years.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teens and Extra Curricular Activities

Ask any “Soccer Mom” where she spends her time, and she’ll tell you – in the car! Extra curricular activities can take up every evening and most of the weekend, and parents may find themselves asking why make such an effort? As a “Volleyball and Softball Mom,” I’ve spent plenty of hours driving an athlete to and from practice and tournaments. I’ve spent even more hours sitting in the bleachers! Was it worth it? Definitely! YES.

While a great deal of research has pointed to the benefit of youth activities – including sports, cultural activities and community organizations, a recent study asked teens to describe their own growth experience in extra curricular activities. The teens participating in the study reported that their extra curricular activities helped them in many ways. As they tried new things, teens learned more about themselves.

They developed personal initiative by learning to set goals they could achieve, working hard and persevering, managing their time and taking responsibility for themselves. The teens also reported that they learned to manage their feelings, especially anger, anxiety and stress.

They developed feelings of loyalty and friendship with peers, even those outside of their existing social network. Additionally they learned not only to work as a team, but also to develop leadership skills. Finally, they also developed an understanding of how their communities operate and enjoyed support from coaches, leaders and community members.

So, as you attempt to navigate what can be challenging teen years, you might want to consider what opportunities your teens have to experience personal growth through participating in organized activities. What activities are your children involved in and how do you think they benefit from them?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Healthy School Lunches

As the obesity epidemic in America continues to grow, more of today’s youth are struggling with being overweight. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of overweight children has more than quadrupled since 1970. Fifteen percent of today’s children and adolescents are overweight.

Schools are a key setting for healthy nutrition and physical activity strategies and are working with the Department of Agriculture to promote physical activity and nutrition education. Through the USDA’s “Healthier Us” School Challenge, schools are recognized for the changes they have made in improving their school nutrition environment, improving the quality of food served, and providing students with healthier, more nutritious choices.

Parents can also play an active role in ensuring that their child is eating healthy school meals. Parents are encouraged to eat a breakfast or lunch at school to see first hand what the meals are like. Visit the school cafeteria and get to know the staff and consider volunteering to organize a tasting party to introduce new and nutritious foods to kids.

Work with the school PTA to make sure parents’ opinions about healthy food choices are heard. Make sure that your children and teens appreciate how healthy meals influence their mind as well as their body.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Developmental Tasks of Teens

As your children enter into their teen years, they begin a physical and emotional journey that will bring them into adulthood and parents can play an important role in helping them establish who they are.

Teenagers begin to interact with each other in more adult ways as they mature. Experts at the University of Florida say this is linked to physical development, and that peer groups may change during the teen years as they grow at different rates. While their bodies are changing, teens also are learning to accept their appearance and not feel pressured into the perfect body image.

Sexual maturity also occurs during the teen years. Teens begin to define what it means to be male or female. And while this can be a time to experiment with their image, most conform to society’s definitions of gender. UF researchers say teens often confuse sexual feelings with intimacy, and most do not get into long-term, intimate relationships until later years.

Another teen process many of us are familiar with is establishing independence from parents and other adults. During these years, teens learn to rely on themselves more. Although many do not gain economic independence until after career training or college, it’s during the teen years that they begin to consider careers and their financial independence.

Teens also begin to determine their own values and beliefs, although research shows these are usually based on their parents’ values and beliefs. They begin to work towards socially responsible behavior, such as employment and marriage. It’s important for parents to remember (particularly when the “going gets tough” with teens) that they still have a tremendous influence on their child’s development.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Helping Your Child Deal With Peer Pressure

The issue of teen drug and alcohol use is alarming, but parents can and do make a difference in a teen’s decisions to use or not. Family researchers say you have to establish a firm “no use” drug and alcohol family rule. Once the rule has been established, here are some ideas from researchers at Brown University about how to help your child deal with peer pressure and drugs.

Responding to peer pressure in a kind but firm tone of voice is the best way to go. Parents can role-play scenarios with teens and come up with ideas for catch-phrases to legitimize the teen’s reasons for not using drugs, such as, “I’ve tried that before and I don’t like it.” Or “No, that’s not my kind of stuff.”

You might help your teen to consider other reasons that refer to consequences, such as “The one time I tried that, I got really sick and threw up all over the place.” Use any idea that will work for your teen and help him or her practice saying it. Another tactic your teen might use is to change the subject, and, if push comes to shove, leave the scene.

Peer pressure is not always the biggest enemy when it comes to substance abuse. The issue is not always outside influences, but those within the family. When teens don’t feel that their family supports them, they are at the greatest risk for problems.

Keep lines of communication open, use active listening while conveying support and concern, and calmly reinforce a “no use” view of drug and alcohol. These are the most effective ways to help teens resist using or depending on drugs and alcohol. Stay involved and stay connected with your teen.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Outcomes of Bullying

Bullying has been around for generations and has in the past been viewed as a rite of passage or harmless youthful behavior that makes children stronger or tougher. Now bullying is considered a public health problem that affects as many as 30% of students and has serious negative impacts for the bully and for the victim.

Children who are the targets of bullying have low self-esteem and often endure serious emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety. They cannot concentrate on school work or may decide not to go to school at all.

Research conducted by the National Information Institutes of Health reported that children bullied once a week or more were more vulnerable to poorer health, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and thoughts of suicide than children who were not bullied. Some of these problems last into adulthood.

Young people who bully also experience problems. They are more likely to be involved in other problem behaviors, such as smoking and drinking alcohol, and they don’t do as well in school. They are also more likely to engage in criminal activity as adults.

Parents need to be aware of the signs of bullying, which include (but is not limited to) a drop in grades, lack of interest in school, withdrawal from social activities, feeling ill in the morning, has unexplained cuts or bruises, has money missing or “lost,” stops eating, or is bullying other children or siblings.

Schools can be successful in reducing bullying by establishing clear rules against bullying and by increasing adult supervision where bullying usually happens – in cafeterias, bathrooms, hallways, stairwells and school yards.

Parents can make contact with the child’s school or visit the Hillsborough County Bully-buster’s Website for more information at

Monday, October 4, 2010

Childproofing Outdoor Areas

Although we hear a good deal about childproofing our homes, less attention is given to the potential hazards of the outdoor areas where children play. Yards, garages, barns and stables, or work areas, whether on a farm, a suburb, or in the city, can present dangerous, even deadly situations to children.

Barns and garages are both places where children can easily find stored items. From a child’s point of view, these can be great play places. Children climbing on stacks of logs and utility trailers have been killed when these makeshift toys shifted or toppled and crushed them. Broken equipment, such as old cars or parts of cars can also lead to tragedy. Stored chemicals, such as paint, paint thinner and cleaners may also be inviting to children. How can you protect children from harm outdoors?

Extension safety experts recommend that you increase your family’s awareness of dangers and reduce the risks by starting with a safety audit. Walk through your back yard, garages, barns, and shops with your children to identify potential dangers. Explain to them why things are off limits, rather than just telling them “Don’t play on this.”

Once you have completed your safety audit, consider what actions need to be taken. For example, lock sheds and barns and remove all keys from machinery and equipment not in use. Fence off hazardous areas, including retention ponds. Cap and secure all wells. And of course, store hand tools, power tools and toxic chemicals out of reach. Teaching your children about safety and taking the time to secure unsafe places can be the difference between life and death.